Let me guess. You're wearing a white jacket. You have a stethoscope around your neck. You have a Popsicle stick in your hand. And you're trying to get your chinchilla to open his mouth and say "Ah!" This one is easy. You're playing veterinarian to your little chin.

This first piece of information may surprise you. Your little chin needs very little in the way of veterinarian attention. In fact, you don't even need to worry about a laundry list of vaccinations for him. Nope, when it comes to veterinarian care, the chinchilla beats all other pets, hands - er that's paws -- down.

Now, that I've said that, I must add though that there may be times when Chilli may need medical attention. So, as a part of a positive prevention program, you really do need to find him a vet (and no, you dressed up like one just doesn't cut it).

It's best to check out vets before you bring Chilli home. In this way, if he has problems during his crucial adjustment period (and we'll talk about this in a moment) you don't waste any time trying to find one who is right for him.

Yes, some vets specialize in small exotic animals. And ideally, this is one you should be taking Chilli to. But if you can't find one locally, don't panic. Because all vets go through a very rigorous training period.

And if they get stumped, they all have resources and experts as well as colleagues at their fingertips to help them out. They will -- one way or another -- make sure that Chilli gets the best possible care!

Don't Take This Personally,But ...

Your chinchilla is most likely to develop an illness during his first few weeks with you, his new family. It says absolutely nothing about you or your ability to take care of the little guy. I'm sure you're making him feel quite at home.

This happens though when chinchillas encounter a new environment. The new environment contains bacteria that their delicate systems just aren't used to dealing with.

At this point, you should keep in mind that little Chilli is stressed. He's not quite sure what is happening. And the stress is reflected in weakened immune system. The same series of consequences occurs for us when we're stressed. Our immune system functions less efficiently when we're under stress.

Helping Chill Adjust

Why, yes. I'm glad you asked. There are some steps and precautions you can take to help your new furry friend make a smooth adjustment to his new home.

One of the first -- and most important precautions -- you can take involves the age of little Chilli. Before you bring him home, make sure he's been fully weaned from Mom. In other words, make sure he can feed himself.

When you do adopt your chinchilla, you'll probably receive a diet sheet. This lists all the types of foods this little guy eats. Please for the sake of his delicate digestive tract, follow it. Your chinchilla is quite sensitive to changes in diet.

While we talk about the proper method to changing his diet, it's best to not even attempt it at this time.

The most sensible approach -- if at all possible --is to discover what he eats before you even bring him home. In that way, everything is set up for his arrival. You won't have the need to offer him any food he's not familiar with.

The next step in keeping your chinchilla healthy during this critical period of adjustment for Chilli is a fundamental rule of healthy living anyway. Nut it's even more vital when you first bring Chilli home.

You want o be fastidious in keeping your chinchilla's surroundings clean. This guards against possible infections. Be sure to wash his food and water dish regularly.

It's also important -- and many well-meaning chinchilla parents forget this - to wash your hands prior to handling your friend's food. Bacteria that your body may have built up a resistance to -- like E. coli -- can be a serious challenge to your chinchilla's health.

Don't Prepare Fresh Food Ahead

The risk of contaminating your new pet is greatest when you're preparing fresh food. Always prepare it immediately prior to feeding him. Don't prepare it ahead of time allowing it to sit around. Some bacteria -- yes, just like E. coli -- actually double in number every 20 minutes! Think about that one (Don't think too long so the bacteria don't overwhelm you!).

Always spend time every day with Chilli. While this is important throughout his entire life with you, it's crucial during this adjustment period. The reason for this is two-fold. Of course it's a vital aspect of the socializations process.

But beyond tht it helps you to visually monitor your friend's health. Hopefully through this "getting-to-know" you period, you'll catch any early symptoms of potential health problems. If you see some condition or symptom or sign that nags at you, call your vet immediately.

It's much easier -- and the odds of a full recovery much better -- when you find a health problem early and treat it in a timely manner.

What to ExpectAt The Vet

It's true! It's possible for your pet to live a lifetime without the need of ever seeing a vet. But if that isn't possible for your specific little fellow, then it's best that you know at the very beginning what to expect at a visit.

And we're going to start at the very beginning. And no, that's not once you get to the doctor's office. Let's talk how you plan to take Chilli to the doctor's office. Are you ready?

Let's TalkCar Ride

The ride to the doctor's office alone may stress your little guy out. Don't allow him to travel in the car unless he's in a car carrier. Don't let any child talk you letting him into holding him. And certainly don't let him roam free in the car. Got it? Cool. I knew you would understand.

And be sure the carrier is in such a location which isn't affected by a draft. And be sure (now I'm sounding like a broken record!) the vehicle isn't too warm so he won't be affected by heat stroke.

The two best locations for Chilli's carrier, I've discovered is either on the car floor in the front foot well or on the floor behind one of the front seats. The carrier, if placed here, is relatively secure as well. The odds are good that it won't be tipped over.

Once you're at the vet you may be tempted to place the carrier on the floor of the waiting room next to where you're sitting. You may be tempted -- but don't.

Look around you. See tht Great Dane. Heck, look at that little terrier. If your friend came across either of these two nose to nose, you can just imagine how his stress level would soar.

He doesn't need that extra stress when he's not feeling well. Usually there's room enough that you can easily place the carrier on the chair next to you. You may also want to sit next to an end table.  Then you cay place the carrier on the table.

Once you're with the vet, he'll ask you a series of questions. He's just trying to find out everything he can about the animal. You'll notice he asks such questions as: how long have you been a chinchilla parent? Or it may be he'll ask about Chilli's diet and if he's an "only chinchilla." All of these questions will help the doctor understand what is going on with your little friend's health.

Explicitly Explain Chin's Problem

Be prepared to tell your vet exactly why you're bringing Chilli in for the office visit. The more you can tell him about your friend's symptoms, the better. Yes, all of this would be so much easier if Chilli could talk for himself. But, alas, he can't.

Not until you've told your vet all of this background about your friend will he or she even begin his examination. All of this preliminary work is called "establishing a history." It usually takes place on the first visit. If you need to visit your vet again, there will be some questions he won't need to ask again. So be as patient as you can with the first visit.

Don't be surprised either tht if during this portion of the office visit, you're expected to hold Chilli. While you hang on this him, the vet will physically examine him.

Depending on the reason you're bringing him in, he may have to undergo a series of tests. Your vet may also take Chili's temperature to determine the presence of an infection. A healthy chinchilla, by the way, has a temperature that runs between 100 and 101 degrees F.

If your vet suspects digestive upset, he may even request stool samples from the little guy. Similarly if you're worried over the loss of fur, your vet may request skin samples to see if there is some condition affecting the skin.

Recognizing The Signs

Don't worry. Chances are good that you'll be able to pick up on clues which may point to something amiss in your friend's health.

First you may become suspicious when his eating habits change. You may notice his appetite just isn't what it used to be.

Or you may also see that his droppings have changed this could indicate some serious health problems as well. Some chinchilla parents have caught health problems early, for example, just by noticing their pet appears sleepier than usual. This particular symptom may be a tad difficult to detect. Chinchillas, after all, are nocturnal animals. This means they spend quite a bit of their daytime hours sleeping.

But the longer you and Chilli know each other, the better you'll be at recognizing his personal habits (that's why I suggested earlier that you observe him the very start of your friendship).

So what are some of the common health problems of a typical chinchilla? If a chinchilla is going to develop health issues, odds are that it will be some type of digestive disorder.

The rhythm of your friend's digestive tract is actually the key to your chinchilla's overall health. If the meals he eats pass too quickly through his system, it affects his health negatively. In fact, this condition may in all likelihood end in diarrhea. If, on the other hand, the food passes too slowly ... you guessed it! Constipation occurs.

And for chinchillas, it really isn't unusual for a bout of diarrhea to be followed by a period of constipation.

Why? Part of the answer deals with fluid loss. Diarrhea, as I'm sure you're aware, results in at least some degree of dehydration. Just how much depends on the length and severity of the disorder. But keep in mind that diarrhea is also a reflection that the digestive tract is out of sync.

Constipation is many times just a normal readjustment of Chilli's digestive system. This health condition will then quickly resolve itself. You can help ensure this by feeding your friend adequate amounts of fiber.

Fiber? Try Hay

The best form of fiber for your little guy is hay. You may also want to give him a small amount of greens. This may help relieve him of the constipation.

The most common cause of Chinchilla diarrhea is an unsuitable diet. This is especially aggravated if your chinchilla is experiencing stress on top of the poor diet.

This "foreign" condition the digestive tract is dealing with facilitates bacterial colonization. If not detected and treated quickly enough, this may result in an infection hat could be life threatening.

The Secret WeaponAgainst Diarrhea

While diarrhea as you can see is a potentially life-threatening condition and demands a vet's attention, you can take at least one step while you're trying to make an appointment with your vet.

Dry toast. Yep. Feed the little guy some dry toast. This may help alleviate it at least long enough until your vet can give the little guy a good examination.

Even though diarrhea can be treated with antibiotics, many vets may be reluctant to do so. Antibiotics not only kill off the bad bacteria, but they also kill off the good ones. And chinchillas need all the good bacteria they can possibly get.

A low level of good bacteria, as you might have already guessed, only interferes with the proper functioning of the digestive process even more!

I Spy
Eye Problems

You may discover that your chinchilla is vulnerable to eye injuries. If you slept on wood shavings and took dust baths, you too may have these same eye ailments. A scratch to the surface of the eye -- caused by dust or a piece of hair -- can trigger an irritation at least -- and an infection at its worst.

If your chinchilla is bothered with an eye ailment, he must visit the vet. His doctor will check it out and probably prescribe him medication. This prescription may either be in the form of eye drops or an ointment. Some chinchilla parents prefer ointment because of the ease of application. Have you ever tried putting drops in a chinchilla's eyes. It's definitely easier said than done!

Frequent treatment -- even up to four times a day, depending on the doctor's instructions -- is vital to a full recovery. You're applying the ointment or the drops so often because the chinchilla is going to tear when he comes in contact with the medicine. The increased production in tears will producing a corresponding increase of washing out the very medicine you're trying to keep in!

Furry Ailments

The good news is that chinchillas don't suffer from skin parasites, in part because of their thick fur. But this doesn't mean they're protected entirely from infections that are on the surface of the body.

That means you --as chinchilla parent - must be ever watchful to any areas of hair loss. These will need to be investigated as soon as possible.

Perhaps you chin has developed ringworm. This is a contagious infection that can not only be passed from animal to animal but from animal to human as well.

If you have more than one chinchilla, then you're looking at potentially all of your chinchilla's developing it. After all the fungal spores are probably lurking in the wood shavings of the cage waiting to attack another chinchilla.

Obviously immediate medical care is required. But also immediate cleansing of the entire cage!

Chewing Fur?What's Up With That?

While ringworm is also a potential skin and fur problem, your chinchilla is by far more likely to encounter damaged fur due to his chewing of his coat. It could also be that if you're parent to more than one chinchilla, one is chewing the other's coat.

And yes, this does seem rather odd to us. Unfortunately, it's not always an easy health mystery to solve, either. There may be more than one contributing factor to consider in this problem. If you have more than one chinchilla, you may even have a hard time figuring out if one is chewing the other or if the chewing is self-inflicted

Actually, there is a simple way to solve at least a piece of the puzzle. And you've probably already thought of it. Simply separate your chinchillas. Make sure that at least for a short time, they're living alone.

If the fur loss then stops you know that it was inflicted by the neighbor (with the incisors in the chinchilla cage, to paraphrase the board game Clue!).

While you may think that, there is still one more alternative theory. It could be your furry friend was stressed by the close proximity of his companion and pulled his own fur out. The stressor -- as it were -- was removed and your friend stopped tearing his own fur out.

Very often overcrowding provokes this particular behavior. Sometimes referred to as "barbering," this is not unusual if one of the animals is a newcomer.

Finding an adequate solution is not that easy. It could be the problem will work itself out as the two chinchilla's get to know each other. But it could very well be that the two animals are not good roommates and may have to spend time in separate quarters.

But it may also mean that they just need larger quarters to adequately give them their own private chinchilla space. How to tell the difference? There's no real way until you begin to experiment with some of the options.

Environmental Triggers

Yes, it's very possible that environmental triggers may play a role in the fur loss as well. If your pet isn't sleeping well he may start chewing himself ... repeated loud noises by cause this ...even the introduction of new pet -- like a cat.

This last is especially true if you're still in the middle of teaching the cat not to jump on the cage and look at the poor little guy like supper.

If the cause is stress, then you'll find that once the stress is relieved the fur will grow back. If the fur doesn't, then you know the cause really wasn't stress all along. And you'll have to play detective again!

The health status of your average chinchilla is usually pretty good. Vet visits are few and far between. They tend to get along even when there is more than two of them.

Unlike some other small pets, you won't have many worries about their health. And that's a good thing. That means you'll have more time bonding with him -- and enjoying all his cute little antics.

Here's hoping you have many healthy years together!

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